Simon Bates talks about how much he enjoys living and working in Devon.
PUBLISHED: 11:04 18 February 2015 | UPDATED: 11:04 18 February 2015
Matt Austin Images 2013
He's the man who many of us grew up listening to across the national airwaves. Now, as Simon Bates brings his voice to a more local audience, ALEXIS BOWATER meets him to find out what he has in store
I hear the familiar, avuncular bass of Simon Bates’ voice before I see him when I join the outside broadcast of his morning radio programme at a stately home near Exeter.
The view is quintessentially Devonian, with morning mist rising across the manicured landscape of Killerton House, curling around the flat-topped ancient Cedar of Lebanon in the foreground.
The sound of the A38 swishes softly afar, a red-breasted robin chirps and bobs about sneaking crumbs from abandoned breakfast bacon buttes as the team roll the show, bouncing back and forth from Bates to producer Matt Woodley and newsreader Julie Fisher.
If BBC Radio Devon’s experienced new talent has any influence at all on the future of his show then the listeners of Devon will be hearing and seeing much more of this kind of thing over the next few months and years.
For he’s determined to connect with them through a combination of interaction and outside broadcasts.
I’m not sure if it’s because he is talking to me and being especially charming, or because of his background at Granada Reports, which had a similar philosophy, but he flatteringly holds up the old Westcountry model of local news as a template for excellence – knowing and liking your audience being the number one priority.
The gravitas of his new role is not lost on him. “It is terrifying because you are playing to an audience that knows what you are talking about and if you get it wrong - and I do - they are on your back,” he tells me.
“We have to find a new role for BBC local. I think there is a huge role for local.” About this he is passionate, coming from a generation where national news came second on the television.
Changes to the morning programme are definitely afoot. “We have to stop this idea that the BBC sits in an ivory tower because it doesn’t. And that is what today is all about (referring to the outside broadcast). If I had my way this programme would be on the road every day.”
“But how well do you know it?,” I ask, referring to our county, and we move into a good-natured ‘how do you pronounce this’ competition about Devon place names, me holding up hand-written cue cards and Simon getting nine-and-three-quarters out of ten. There is plenty of that famous laugh.
Only Woolfardisworthy foxes him and then I introduce Aveton Gifford which segues the whole interview into a planning meeting for BBC Radio Devon’s new Simon Bates on-the-road show.
I suggest really crossing the line and resurrecting the successful Westcountry What’s in a Name? series and we get excited about where to start. Well, that’s settled then. Emma, very senior staff and decision-maker, sits in the background, witness to our out-of-control and barnstorming brainstorming. Oh I hope, so hope, it comes to fruition.
Bates clearly has a passion for the county and is no stranger to it, having moved here more than ten years ago to a 120-acre farm near Tiverton.
But as is the way of Devon, having been here more than a decade and being completely ingrained in the local farming community, he’s not yet a ‘local’: although his own ‘locals’ adopted him and his unusual ways years ago: “I went to the local pub covered in excrement one day because I had fallen in the cesspit and washed myself off and people thought it was funny.
“I think they thought I was ridiculously funny, I don’t think they loved me, they stood upwind of me that is for sure.”
Oh, that’s the Mid Devon sang-froid I know and love and can picture the scene. But it’ll take him decades to be completely accepted round those parts.
“I am an incomer,” he admits, “the worst kind. I have been here 13 years and yet still the ladies on my local high street ask me if I have settled in yet,” he tells me. Time is ticking away on our meeting and although I try to I simply can’t resist singing the iconic ‘Our Tune’ theme song. “Do you have people doing that, how annoying is that?” I’m running the risk of a scowl at the very least but, phew, he bursts into laughter.
“It was of it’s time and I didn’t invent it,” he says before revealing his favourite was when he was “completely spannered” by a student scamming him with a passionate affair “a bloke had with a Spanish girl called Sabena” - which turned out to be the national airline of Belgium.
Anecdotes abound. It was fun and of its time. There’s fun ahead in this time now too. That breakfast show is in a safe pair of hands. A warm, witty, experienced broadcaster with a passion for Devon and a determination to tune in to his listeners - so they, in turn, will tune in to him and his love of the county: “I never want to leave Devon - feet first, that’s how it’ll be for me.”
You can hear Simon Bates on BBC Radio Devon every weekday morning from 7-10am including The Golden Hour from 9-10am.
Top Ten Things I Love About Devon
1. So much of Devon is a wonderful mystery. An old county with its history steeped in blood.
2. Walk up on parts of Dartmoor and you’ll find yourself kicking bones up and wondering if they’re human and what happened on the spot where you are standing.
3. Wander around Brent Tor’s Iron Age earthworks on a cold winter’s day and get the shivers and not just because of the cold.
4. The really lovely places to eat and drink in Devon. Places that really do make you feel welcome and valued, like fish and chips at The Swan in Bampton and the superb dinners at the Barton Cross Hotel in Stoke Cannon.
5. Exeter Cathedral for Evensong and the wonderful and towering Bishops Chair.
6. Crunching my way along Slapton Sands.
7. St Pancras Church in Widecombe-in-the-Moor and reading the stern written record of the four people killed by the effects of a lightning strike in 1638, which was of course “God’s judgement”.
8. Coffee at M&S in Tiverton. Don’t raise your eyebrows - it’s fabulous.
9. Tarr Steps. At their best on a cold winter’s day, but still astonishing with crowds of tourists around them.
10. The Tally Ho Inn, Littlehempston is a community owned pub with great atmosphere. I must get round to buying a share.
Top Ten Things You Don’t Know About Me
1. I was an artificial inseminator for a while.
2. I read the football results on Radio Two for a couple of years.
3. I introduced a TV show called Japanese Brush Painting with a co-host who spoke only Japanese. I don’t speak a word of the language. We didn’t talk much.
4. I can idly converse in Maori as long as the other chap is patient.
5. I love horses of almost any shape, confirmation or size and cats too.
6. I crash landed a Second World War bomber on Iceland in the 1980s.
7. A friend and I got arrested and bunged in an Ethiopian jail and when I managed to bribe my way out, the bloke with me asked the locals for a receipt for his expenses claim. We stayed there for a while.
8. I find broadcast clichés like “Mr Cameron flew into Gatwick” hysterically funny. I am therefore an extremely unreliable newsreader.
9. I wrote a truly terrible thriller when I was destitute and then found it remaindered at a Tokyo airport.
10. I was in Moscow the night the red flag came down.